Hawaii actor and musician Shawn Mokuahi Garnett would be the first to tell you he is a blessed man. Not only is he having the “greatest experience” playing Cousin Flippa on “Hawaii Five-0,” but as a new father and a rising star on the local music scene, he is grateful his stars have aligned.
“Everyday I’m thankful to be a part of the show,” he said.
I first met Garnett at a “Five-0” fan event at Big City Diner Pearlridge during season three and loved how easy he was to talk with, and how kind and unassuming he was with fans. He calls everyone “dude,” even his young son, who is “Little Dude.” He hugs everyone and always has a big smile — and if you ask for a picture, he will shyly say, “Sure, dude,” before he mugs for the camera. He is just as awestruck by all of us, asking for pictures or to sign memorabilia, as we starstruck by him.
Once we all got to know Garnett, his lovely wife Brandye and his darling son, Shawn Jr., we found a down-to-earth guy, a dedicated family man and a talented singer who just also happened to be a recurring character on our favorite television show.
I’ve spoken with Garnett on several occasions, but recently got a chance to ask him specific questions about his time on “Hawaii Five-0.” Viewers first met Kamekona’s cousin Flippa in “Hā‘awe Make Loa” (“Death Wish”) when the pair got to hang with the Victoria Secret Angels.
“My Uncle Tim played a “dead guy” on ‘Hawaii Five-0,’” Garnett said. “He told me to go through the casting website and apply to be an extra.
“So after filling out the application, I attended an extras meet and greet (where extras casting takes your picture and gets your stats so you can be called to be in the background during shooting). After a few months, I got a call from casting saying they wanted me to audition for Cousin Flippa.”
Garnett said there was a lot of waiting involved between applying and the meet and greet — and even while being cast — but it was all very much worth the wait.
“My first scene … was with Scott Caan, Alex O’Loughlin and Taylor Wily,” he said. “In my mind, I was like, ‘WHAT the hell am I doing here?’
“Was I nervous? I guess I’m always used to this kind of stuff being thrown into my life. Working with Michelle Borth, Dennis Chun, Daniel Dae Kim, Masi Oka, and Grace Park — man, I am so honored.”
Garnett was quick to share his experiences on set and what it’s really like to work with the stars of the show.
“On set, they’re really cool,” he said. “I try not to talk a lot to them because I know they’re busy people, but when I do, we have normal conversations.
“Whether it’s talking to Scott (Caan) about surfing or Daniel (Dae Kim) about where he can find the best Korean Food on the island (which is Dong Yang Inn in Wahiawā), or watching Michelle (Borth) and Alex (OʻLoughlin) play MY guitar! Dude, I’m not washing my guitar ever!
“I totally forgot about Chi McBride — he is the coolest, most classiest guy ever. We talk about his golf game and my tattoos. And I can’t forget about Dennis Chun. He’s such a good man, such a professional.
“And my TV cousin, Taylor (Wily), Big T. He’s a good braddah. He loves his family and loves his job. After a few episodes, I do feel like he’s my big cuz. In Hawaii, us Braddahs have a connection, one way or another. I am just so blessed to be working with him and everyone in the cast and crew.”
I asked Garnett about his favorite moments on set, and he spoke about working with special guest star Carol Burnett.
“Seriously, every episode I’m in, I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It’s so cool to work with these great actors, but the most awesome experience I had was working with Carol Burnett. I grew up watching her show. Granted, it was all reruns, but nevertheless, she made an impression on me. I hope they bring back Aunt Deb.”
Garnett also had nice things to say about director and stunt coordinator, Jeff Cadiente.
“I’ve worked with Jeff on a couple episodes,” he said. “First one was the infamous Sumo Flippa episode. He coordinated all the falls and action.
“Little side note: I really got (busted) up that day! That was hard work. Just recently, Jeff directed me in (April 25 episode) ‘Pe’epe’e Kānaka.’ He’s such a cool dude.”
Garnett was born and raised in Hawaii, mostly in the Mililani area, and graduated from Hanalani Schools.
“Hawaii is my home. My own HQ,” he said. “Being Native Hawaiian means a lot to me and it stems from my name. My middle name Kauaʻawa Mokuahi. Kauaʻawa was given from Great Grandma Mokuahi, who was 100 percent Hawaiian and didn’t even speak English. It means ‘Warrior’ and it gets passed down to the first born male. My son, Shawn Jr., has this name.
“Mokuahi is my family name, it means ‘Steamboat.’ I chose to use Shawn Mokuahi Garnett as my acting name, because, well, my Grandma told me to use it. I just wanted to represent my family name.”
If you were lucky enough to have attended the season four premiere “Sunset on the Beach” in 2013, you may have heard Garnett playing his guitar and singing. He has the most amazing voice and is quite entertaining on stage. It’s usually just Garnett and his guitar, and he is a sight and sound to behold.
“Since being on ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ I’ve had a bunch of people from around the world come and see me play,” he said. “So my career has definitely gotten better with more and more people hearing my music. It’s so weird to think that people actually watch the show and remember me. Just goes to show you how much this show means to people. And they get to see the beautiful shots of my home.”
Garnett may think folks want to see him because of his “Five-0” connection, but after meeting him and having him hug you or shake your hand like you’re his cuz, you’ll understand why people want to hear him play and spend a few hours with him. He’s definitely a blessed Hawaiian dude.
REDUX SIDE NOTE:
CBS aired a repeat of “ʻAʻale Maʻa Wau” (“Fish out of water”) this week. Next week will be the start of the final new episodes of season four, with “Pe’epe’e Kānaka” (“Those Among Us”) on April 25 and “Makani ʻOlu a Holo Mālie (“Fair Winds and Following Seas”) on May 2.
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.